Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer

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Moneyball and Your Life


Bill-Frayer-2010I am a baseball fan.  I love the game. I like everything about the game: its complexity, its leisurely pace; the diamond green oasis in the middle of a concrete environment; its tradition and legends; the fact that a game takes as long as it takes, without regard for an artificial clock; and even the unpredictability of the umpires who, except for home runs, cannot be overruled by the “instant replay.” Now that it’s February, we all know that pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training within a couple of weeks. 

Perhaps the most interesting characteristic about baseball is that it is, at its essence, a thinking person’s game.  There is a lot of planning and minute strategy which goes into winning a game.  If you saw the film Moneyball released last fall, you know what I mean.  The film is about Billy Beane, the now-legendary general Manager of the Oakland A’s, a small-market team without as much money as some of the rich teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees.  It is about how Beane used Bill James’ system of sabermetrics to help the A’s win more games.  Sabermetrics relies on evidence garnered from a player’s statistics to make decisions about which players to sign and use in particular positions. 

What made Beane’s approach so controversial is that it used statistics and logic, not intuition and hunch, which went against generations of tradition in professional baseball.  It worked very well, and now many teams subscribe to sabermetric principles.  My beloved Red Sox, who had failed to win a World Series since 1918, adopted Beane’s ideas and won two championships in 2004 and 2007.  The principles are now being applied to making decisions in other professional sports as well. 

Now an interesting question: to what degree might we apply the same approach to making decisions in our own lives?  In other words, in what areas where we tend to use more intuitive or anecdotal methods might we apply logical, statistical decision-making principles to generate better outcomes?

Perhaps the most obvious is in our health care.  How much accurate information do we use in deciding how to take care of our bodies?  Do we base our decisions on what drugs or supplements to take, what food to eat, and what kind of exercise to get on substantial statistical evidence?  When we read some claim about health, do we really know what evidence this claim is based on? How much do our doctors really know about the drugs they prescribe?  There is a statistical track record for older drugs but much less for newer ones.

After researching the connection between diet and disease, my wife and I decided to move to a plant-based diet.  Our decision was based on what seems to be good statistical information about the benefits of a vegan diet.  Of course, there is sometimes conflicting information about diet, but how many people actively research the effect of diet on health? 

I suspect we could make better decisions about investments by using statistics.  Many people sell when the stock market tanks, in direct opposition to the statistics which make it clear it’s better to buy when prices are low and sell when they are high. 

Perhaps we might even use statistical and logical decision-making to decide whom to marry, a heretical thought! After all, a 50% failure rate is expensive and emotionally trying.  Which marriages are most successful?  Could we research this and try to select our partners accordingly?  Just saying. 

--It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.  ~Stephen Mallarme


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